Nonito Donaire v Vic Darchinyan II - The Hunger Wanes

The result was predictable. The struggle was unexpected.

Nonito Donaire made his debut in the 126lb weight class in Corpus Christi, Texas, stopping a spirited Vic Darchinyan in a rematch of their 2007 bout,  which etched the Filipino's name in the boxing firmament as one to watch.  

Donaire returned for the first time since his loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux, and in the build-up to that fight the Filipino Flash seemed distracted by the upcoming birth of his son. It was marketed as a special fight taking place in a unique venue, on the hallowed stage of Radio City Music Hall in New York, the first bout there since Roy Jones Jr defended his lightweight titles in early 2000.

The fight was not even close, as Rigondeaux claimed the title by unanimous decision in a cagey, technical fight with few fireworks. An insipid and lackadaisical Donaire scored a late knock down, but Rigondeaux responded with relish, closing his opponent's eye and stopping any hopes of a grandstand finish.

In the pre-fight interview on Saturday, Donaire said:

"The lack of focus, the lack of hunger, that was a crucial mistake. You know, when you reach the top, you feel that no-one can beat you...Instead of digging deep into the fight, studying the fight, I opted to think, you know what, this guy has no chin, we might land one punch, the fight might be over."

Guillermo Rigondeaux has 2 Olympic gold medals, a near peerless amateur record, lightning quick hands with equally impressive foot speed, expert ring generalship and a superb control of range.

"We might land one punch" is not a smart game plan.

It's not a smart game plan going into the toughest fight of your career against a world-class operator. It's not a smart game plan for anybody who ever decides to lace up a pair of gloves.

Which begged the question: if you can't be motivated for elite opposition, what is the likelihood that a rematch with a fighter you viciously stopped with a one-punch counter 6 years ago is going to reignite the fire in your soul?

From round one of the fight, the answer was obvious.

One fighter had studied tape. One had not. One fighter had a look of steeled determination. One did not. 

Darchinyan boxed cautiously on the back foot from the outset, understandably weary of Donaire's powerful left hook, one of the marquee punches in any weight class. But the Armenian had done his homework, and committed to his own whipping straight left which increasingly became the dominant punch of the fight heading into the middle rounds.

He neutralized predictable offense, with his own straighter, faster shots which marked up the right side of Donaire's face with increasing regularity. 

When Donaire looked set to uncork his signature shot, Darchinyan lunged forward through the middle, keeping his chin low, and landing the straight before Donaire's wider shots had a chance to hit their mark.  

It was simple geometry; Vic's gloves were catapulted in a straight line that was ultimately shorter than Nonito's looping curves. 

Donaire was typically over reliant on counter-punching,  and required his partner to lead the dance. Darchinyan refused his advances for the majority of the fight.

He remained cagey, rarely letting his hands go until the end of each round. Darchinyan's efforts caught the eyes of the judges, who had him leading as the fight neared its end. 

There is a reason that Donaire can finish like a champion without preparing like one. He possesses the great equalizer: natural punching power.

When Donaire connected, his 38 year-old shop-worn opponent wobbled. And in the 9th round, the "We might land one punch" doctrine was proven right, as a cuffing left dropped and short-circuited Darchinyan's legs, leaving him stumbling around the ring, bravely trying to prevent the inevitable.

The referee took mercy, stopping the fight just on time as he was cowed in the corner.

The fact that Darchinyan ended the fight on his feet, not falling face forwards to the ropes as in 2007, was scant reward for his improved and disciplined performance. 

Donaire had done the job on the night. But was this the performance of an elite boxer, at the peak of his powers, who trusted his strengths to wear out his opponent over the course of the fight? Or was it a poorly-conditioned, unfocused fighter, finally letting his hands go not because he wanted to, but because he had to?

It was evidently the former.

The mistakes of the Rigondeaux fight were not corrected, the lessons were not learned, the mooted humbling nature of the defeat merely a mirage. 

What is next for Donaire ? Will the fans be happy seeing him matched with come forward sluggers, eager to prove once more that yes, his big left hook still carries knock out power? 

Any fellow Featherweight contenders who were watching the action on Saturday night must have been encouraged by what they saw.

If they're the kind of fighter who train to fight for 3 minutes of every round, who even loosely follow the creed of "hit and don't get hit," who possess the coolness to avoid a fire fight,  they should be on the phone to their agent on Monday morning with one simple request. 

"Get me Donaire."